kitchen table math, the sequel: Are Grading Trends Hurting Socially Awkward Kids?

Friday, March 8, 2013

Are Grading Trends Hurting Socially Awkward Kids?

There's a rather spirited discussion going on at the TheAtlantic.com regarding various questions raised by my article there. Some people are claiming that the demands of the 21st require students to work in groups and be graded on their presentation skills. Please weigh in if you have an opinion on this!

25 comments:

Auntie Ann said...

The ability to teach 21st Century skills should also be brought into question. Schools are failing at that *too*!

A College Degree Sorts Job Applicants, but Employers Wish It Meant More

"Yet half of those surveyed recently by The Chronicle and American Public Media's Marketplace said they had trouble finding recent graduates qualified to fill positions at their company or organization. Nearly a third gave colleges just fair to poor marks for producing successful employees. And they dinged bachelor's-degree holders for lacking basic workplace proficiencies, like adaptability, communication skills, and the ability to solve complex problems."

Those are the very skills that are supposed to be taught by all of this cooperative learning stuff.

Anonymous said...

This article focused on kids on the autism spectrum, but there are loads of socially awkward or socially marginalized kids without a diagnosis. Introverts, nerds, kids with unusually interests who are not athletic, kids who are bullied. Many have advanced language skills can learn to give wonderful presentations and become excellent public speakers and leaders in the right environment.

Group work in business involves only people hired by the company, all with a common goal of serving the boss and performing the required task. They are incentivised to do well by a pay check. In a classroom there are kids who don't want to be there, kids who don't understand the assignment, kids with ADHD, kids with behavioral problems, all assigned to the same groups with nerds, introverts and Aspies. It is a very artificial social arrangement. Presentation-based activities that introverted, nerdy kids have typically done well in, like debate teams, model UN or theater are being eliminated and replaced with non-competitive cooperative group activities where these kids feel silenced and don't fit in.

lgm said...

Children with autism have IEPs. Why would they be participating in and being graded on educational activities that are inappropriate for people with their disability?

Auntie Ann said...

Because, so much of what happens in the modern classroom revolves around communication, cooperation, team-work, etc--and that is what many grades are based on. When 20% or 30% or more of a grade is how social you are, atypical kids get screwed. Kids who can do the academic work which in the past would have earned them A's now bring home B's or C's.

This grading system advantages the socially-forward students and disadvantages the socially-awkward kids, whether they are disadvantaged because of brain functions, bullying, or simply less maturity (remember there can easily be 18 months difference in age between the oldest and youngest in a classroom, and sometimes even more--when you're 8, or 9, or 10, that's a huge difference.)

lgm said...

Students with IEPs have the flexibility to reduce their workload, change the grading, and divest themselves of inappropriate assignments. Sounds like the 'team' has not agreed that the assignment is inappropriate.

Agree that the grading system advantages the mature. That's one reason people redshirt spring/summer birthday boys.

Katharine Beals said...

"Sounds like the 'team' has not agreed that the assignment is inappropriate."

This is the issue. Parents cannot get everything they want, and (as the comments at TheAtlantic make clear) many teachers (and even some parents!) think that students shouldn't be exempted from some of these social demands, regardless of their diagnosis, because they reflect "real world" demands.

Of course, the real world also prefers those who are physically attractive. So schools might prepare kids for the real world by downgrading kids for looks.

I wouldn't equate maturity with sociability. Lots of highly mature people are socially awkward; and lots of highly sociable people are also immature.

Anonymous said...

Socially-based grading is a wonderful way to extend the bullying of the playground into the classroom.

Why not just have kids vote on other kids' grades?

Honestly, there are few social situations more different than a public school classroom and an engineering workplace.

Why say we want more engineers and then create classrooms designed to punish and demoralize the engineers of the future?

SteveH said...

All kids need to work on presentation skills. I was happy that my son's schools required it from the earliest grades. It seemed like an appropriate amount ... for him. The article shows a rubric where 50 percent of the grade is for oral presentation, but that's for something called a "Science Presentation Evaluation Rubric". I don't know what percent of the total science grade that is or how much presentation is required in other subjects.

What I find much worse is the use of student-driven group work in class. The problem is not necessarily shyness, but dominance. Why would teachers see the problem as a shyness that has to be corrected by tossing all kids into groups so that they can figure it out on their own? It might not be shyness, but an unwillingness to argue with a jerk, especially when two dominant jerks go at it. Some teachers in high school thought I was aloof. Nope. That wasn't it.

Worse are discussions where students opine about current events where they have little or no current or historical background knowledge. Will you be graded low because you don't join in? That's not shyness.

The goal for many educators is a student-driven active learning environment. Heaven forbid that there would be a learning style that doesn't fit that meme. Teachers think this process is engaging and motivating, but they see only what they want to see. They see the problem as shyness, of course.

If you include kids on the autism spectrum, then the discussion needs to focus more on the problems of full inclusion. I find it ironic that educators talk about different learning styles on one hand, but then assume that everyone has group and art learning styles. They hope to solve the problem with differentiated instruction, but they want to do that only using group work that is (dominant) student driven. In what alternate universe are they living? Dominance also works in other ways. For one sixth grade group (art) project, a member of my son's group kept cutting up their work. Their teacher told them to figure out a way to work together. Yeah, right.


What's wrong is that we keep thinking that these educational ideas make any sense whatsever on anything other than a superficial level. We earnestly look for significant explanations for things that are clearly and utterly wrong, especially when they are used with no caveats or when they use the term "best practices". Yup. best practices given their assumptions.

Pedagogy first, research second. It's the epitome of irony that ed schools directly indoctrinate students in a philosophy of student-driven discovery. They do what they do. It's their turf.


palisadesk said...

Not all students with autism have IEPs. They would have IEPS if their autism is accompanied by significant academic learning issues, or behavior problems. If they are just a bit odd and nerdy, they will not necessarily have an IEP. Some whose difficulties *are* significant have parents who refuse classification, so they don't have the advantages an IEP could confer.

Fortunately in my district I've seen a significant move *away from* in-class group work. When employed, it's generally appropriate, such as a group preparing a skit or tableau in drama, or self-selecting to read and report on the same book or topic; in the latter cases, those who want to work on their own can also choose to do so.

Auntie Ann said...

For many grades, the differences in age doesn't matter, but I do think they when older or physically-precocious kids start hitting the outer edges of puberty in 5th grade, while their peers are still barely past hot wheels and barbies, it makes a difference. Our girl's 5th grade classroom had one girl who was starting to look like a teenager, started wearing makeup and was obsessively texting her friends, while most of the others were still a year or two away from hitting the pre-teen changes.

Then, add to that the fact that girls hit that stage a year or so before boys, and you can have a massive gap between the most-precocious girl and the least-precocious boy. In height alone, you can have kids more than a head taller than their classmates. You get a big kid/little kid divide during these years. That might not carry over to their academic differences, but when the lines between academic and social strengths are blurred by the curriculum, it can take a toll.

In the lower grades this doesn't matter much, and once they hit their freshman or sophomore years in high school, things start to even out again, but those middle grades are tough.

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lgm said...

>>Why say we want more engineers and then create classrooms designed to punish and demoralize the engineers of the future?

The majority of engineers are not diagnosed with Autism or Asp. Presentation skills and working with others are expected in many engineering functions in real life as well as in the college classroom. Agree that the issue is how special needs are handled in the fully included classroom.

---

The difference in age matters every year here as test results from CogAt and grades are used to pick the honors cohort. If you are a bright boy with age appropriate behavior and the choice is between you and a boy one year older who also has age appropriate behavior, the seat will go to the older child, given all else equal, because older children behave more like female teachers want. Scoring higher on the CogAT is also easier for an older child..the school isn't looking at norm for age, they are looking at norm for cohort...an older child has more life experience and scores higher than a younger child of equal intelligence.
---
Our experience with group work has changed dramatically. Eight years ago, the kids were thrown to the wolves. Dominants would deliberately flunk highly successful kids by taking presentations home and 'forgetting' parts on presentation day...the teachers didn't want to handle it. A new principal changed all that in response to parent and student conversations. Now, everyone in the group has a role and everyone has a contribution. If you don't like the group, you can be a group of one. It was needed well before the honors split -- too many jerks trying to dominate the classroom and too many included special needs w/o an effective aide. Think about it..when you're eight, and your special needs partner is throwing an avoidance tantrum, what do you do? Your workload just doubled, you lost a lot of time while the removal procedures took place, and your teacher is on a tight schedule. The response here was to drop a lot of these activities, which of course meant that the district had to find other ways to meet the writing objectives and the oral speaking objectives.

Anonymous said...

lgm, I won't agree that the issue is how special needs are handled in the fully included classroom. I don't think this is the problem at all. It's a problem of diversity and the space to work individually in a culture that insists on extroversion and groupthink in second grade. Face it: most engineers are introverts. Designing a classroom that gives grades for extroversion punishes them.

I'm wondering if you've ever actually worked in an engineering shop. I have. And I'll say it was almost uniformly populated with the sort of oddballs who would have been unhappy in this sort of school regime.

SteveH said...

Hey! We engineers are quite sociable, thank you. This nerd/oddball meme really doesn't fit. It comes from others, not engineers. Did you know that a group did a test and found that MIT students have a better sense of humor than Harvard students? Of course, it was a very scientific study, as good as any from the world of education. There is nothing introverted about engineers who work together to figure out how to turn a tall building into a Tetris game. Everyone else is an oddball.


I would put the problem a different way. Future Engineers of America are probably the very analytic ones who don't care for the fuzziness of class discussions on inane subjects. They are the ones with A's in math and science (as long as it isn't integrated math or science), but something else in English. My senior year English "source theme" was on aerodynamics.

There is room for the analytic types in high school, but that's not true in the lower grades. These are the kids who love skills in math. While many teachers think they are rote, the analytic kids know better. I remember telling my son's Kindergarten teacher that I leave out math practice sheets and my son loves to do them. She gave me a look that made me think she was going to call the child protective services.

In terms of K-6 math, those teachers are the oddballs. They just don't "understand". They want kids to explain something that is clearly explained by just doing the math.

lgm said...

>>I'm wondering if you've ever actually worked in an engineering shop. I have. And I'll say it was almost uniformly populated with the sort of oddballs who would have been unhappy in this sort of school regime.

Yep, sure have, 4 different shops. The megashop had some who were obviously quirky and shy, but the smaller shops couldn't afford the luxury of supporting people who couldn't interact with others. All expected presentations to small and large groups, and interaction between depts. Also went to an engineering U of about 5000 undergrads. Very few people sitting by themselves in the cafeterias, thriving social scene.
Agree with Steve.

I'm actually wondering if you are an engineer given that St. Pat's is just around the corner ..St. Pat is the patron saint of Eng. and some Us celebrate with massive social activities that week. I can't recall a single room in my dorm where there were nonpartcipants, although I'm sure some may have just gone home. I've never worked in a shop where people didn't meet on their personal time, whether for beer or skiing or whatever the group was interested in.

Of course, people you may call oddballs, I probably call normal, as I was the oddball out in high school because i understood the math rather than memorized it, thanks to new math with all its set theory giving me something to do in grade school. I suspect many don't like this group instruction because they're tired of repeating themselves, and repetition does not go along with giftedness. They want somethign new and may retreat into their own mind rather than show once again how many ways their are to make 5. My son's elementary teachers all had G&T training, so they were able to use the opportunity of the state test req't of 'explain your reasoning' to introduce the concept of proof. 'taint hard, if the teacher has a clue and is doing the job of teaching students rather than presenting curriculum units.

Introverts are people who need to recharge after being around other people. A person who won't talk to others has a different label. A child who is tired of egotistical clasmates who won't learn also has a different label than introvert.

My unsolicited advice for those with younger students is to find teachers who come from a culture that values scholarship and have G&T training. Your kid won't be considered an oddball, and the culture of learning that they establish in the classroom will make the other classmates into slackers or they will rise to the occasion.

Anonymous said...

If you fellows are done wagging your, uh, credentials, maybe you could return to the point.

Grading for extroversion penalizes future engineers.

Perhaps it's easier to redefine terms if the word "introvert" is too frightening. Call it "the analytical type," or call it "retreat into their own mind." The point stands no matter what euphemism you pitch.

It might be more helpful in the long run to understand what the term actually means, though. I recommend Quiet.

Or if that's too scary, you could bluster some more.

SteveH said...

"I'm wondering if you've ever actually worked in an engineering shop."

You threw down the card as if was a requirement.


"Call it "the analytical type,""

Hey! That's what I said, and it's quite different than introverted.

And, getting an engineer's view is quite "to the point".

Anonymous said...

The Venn diagram for 'the analytical type' and 'introverts' approaches a circle.

It's a distinction without much of a difference.

Care to agree or disagree with the original point yet, or are you not done posturing yet?

In case all that partying you're so proud of has affected your memory, that is:

Grading for extroversion penalizes future engineers.

lgm said...

"Grading for extroversion penalizes future engineers."

LOL. Guess you didn't take a logic course. Try "Grading for extroversion penalizes some future engineers" and more might agree with you.

The distinction between analytical and introvert does indeed have a significant difference. I'll agree to disagree though, as Webster et al has covered the differences to the point that I won't waste anymore of my time. Thanks for the humor.

Anonymous said...

lgm, I must apologize for causing to say such foolish things in front of your peers. I trust they will understand that you're not at your best today.

I would hate to think you are truly incapable of understanding the difference between a generalization (e.g. "grading for extroversion penalizes future engineers") and an absolute rule (e.g. only future engineers and all future engineers are penalized...)

I think that most people understand such simple use of a generalization quite naturally in its common meaning, which for those similarly impaired as yourself must apparently be explained further:

Future engineers, much more so than those of different professions requiring very different skills are penalized by grading for extroversion.

I have to admit it does amuse me to think that someone has grown to adulthood and has made it his business to opine on matters of education without understanding how a generalization works, or without knowing that the overlap in personality characteristics between the analytical bent and the introverted tendency is very close.

I suppose your intense study of engineering-related partying left most other fields a bit short. It's nice your alma mater was so understanding.

SteveH said...

"Face it: most engineers are introverts."

I'm trying to face this awful truth. "Most". Nope.


"The Venn diagram for 'the analytical type' and 'introverts' approaches a circle."

Nope, part II.


"Future engineers, much more so than those of different professions requiring very different skills are penalized by grading for extroversion."

"Much more so" than future mathematicians or scientists? They aren't analytical? Perhaps they are really engineers in disguise. You really need to move those Venn circles a wee bit further apart.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

People might want to stop trashing each other and cite some literature.

For example
http://www4.ncsu.edu/unity/lockers/users/f/felder/public/Papers/longmbti.pdf


2. The emphasis on active and cooperative learning in the experimental courses may have negated the usual advantage enjoyed by introverts in the traditional approach to engineering education, which emphasizes individual work.

The speculation that cooperative learning gave the extraverts an advantage over the introverts is consistent with type theory. The traditional mode of engineering instruction, which stresses individual effort and competition for grades, is more compatible with the natural studying tendencies of introverts than of extraverts. Introverts taught traditionally might therefore be expected to outperform extraverts, as they did in the studies of McCaulley et al.6 and Rosati.7–9 In the experimental courses, the mandated group work in most assignments would be comfortable for the extraverts, while the characteristic shyness of many introverts might have caused some of them to be relatively passive in their groups, depriving them of the full benefits of cooperative learning.

SteveH said...

Discussion is not just about citing literature. Personal knowledge and experience does matter.

"may have"

My comments have centered around looking beyond issues of introverts and the (wrong) assumption that engineers are somehow defined by that term. It's a Big Bang Theory superficial joke, and most engineers and scientists laugh right along with it.

I can see the "general" idea, but, as I tried to discuss before, there is more going on here than some personality trait about people who want to work alone versus in groups.

I've worked on many group projects, but none of them required group work on tasks, and they all included a structure where someone was in charge. That is usually NOT the case in K-8 education. And, we're talking about doing a task versus learning new material.

I also tried to make the distinction between K-8 and high school, where many math and science courses are NOT centered around group learning. Many analytic kids thrive in these classes, but introverts still might have problems. Do extroverts do less well in these classes? Shouldn't we worry about them?

Another non-introvert issue has to do with depth and analysis of learning. In sixth grade, my son had to draw crayon pictures of science terms, presumably because ALL kids have a visual learning mode. My son could learn them very quickly, but he had to spend at least a half-hour per definition drawing nice color pictures on 3X5 cards so that he could get a 5 on his rubric. My son is perfectly sociable (and NOT a future engineer), but this drove him crazy. But somehow, the general meme of introverts versus extroverts gets the attention instead of all sorts of other awful things that are going on.

Besides, you don't need potential future engineers to make the point. Education HAS changed to benefit the extroverted. Being an extrovert (like good looks) has always been an advantage, but I see the biggest change in K-8, not high school. There is also the bigger problem of low expectations and wrong teaching of math and other topics in K-8.


So, does group learning just cause low grades for introverts, but they really learn the material as well as the extroverts? Is this some sort of extrovert learning mode, just like visual or any other silly thing that educators come up with. My view is that group learning is just time-wasting slow learning where extroverts get better grades than the introverts. I don't believe it causes the analytic or introvert types to learn less. It just drives them crazy! They could learn so much more and be much more happy with a more direct and accelerated approach. That's a different issue.

What, exactly, is the problem, low grades, or low learning? If you are talking about low learning, then there are other things that are much more of an issue. If you took the time wasting group learning and replaced it with direct teaching and individual homework, are you then covering more material in more detail? Not unless you change the premise of the discussion, but the introverts might get better grades. Is that the solution? You still have bad curricula, low expectations and no acceleration, but equal grades? Or, is the hope that talk of the needs of introverts will somehow change educators' fundamental beliefs and assumptions? Maybe, but will it change their low expectations? Will it get rid of Everyday Math?

SteveH said...


"... while the characteristic shyness of many introverts might have caused some of them to be relatively passive in their groups, depriving them of the full benefits of cooperative learning."


And what are those "full benefits"?

It's not depth of learning. Is it engagement and motivation that somehow translates into the ability to do individual homework sets, things that introverts are supposedly better at? Does group work get the job done for extroverts - other than getting them better grades than the introverts?


I'm trying to get past the easy generalizations, separate the variables, and look at the details. If the goal is better education for all, then K-8 schools have to move to something other than a steady diet of student-driven group learning in class. They need to have better curricula and higher expectations, and this won't be driven by some realization that introverts need something different. The goal is not just equal grades for introverts and extroverts, but a better K-8 education that also does not assume that everyone can or should be an extrovert.

palisadesk said...

If the goal is better education for all, then K-8 schools have to move to something other than a steady diet of student-driven group learning in class. They need to have better curricula and higher expectations

This is very true IMO, and happily in some places there has been significant movement in this direction. I first started to notice the change around 1997 or 1998, when intensive PD for administrators began to take place. Many of these folks had little grounding in curriculum or learning science or research, and they were systematically trained and upgraded in these areas. I believe that Elmore's influence was making itself felt about that time.

Anyway, that's when some of the admins I knew started coming back with dazed expressions, saying "centers" and "projects" needed to be significantly cut back, because teacher-directed explicit instruction had been proven to be far more effective. Teachers might still group students for this explicit instruction -- especially in math or reading, where different levels were needed in every class -- but "discovery learning" was pretty much out, and kids only did "group" work in highly defined circumstances.

I've been in 4 K-8 schools since then, and have seen this trend in all of them, with better results for students in every case. My current school is low SES but high performing, and I see direct, whole-class teaching in every grade, with individual rather than "group" work in the core subjects, limited use of "projects," and high standards even for the classified sped kids, who often rise to the challenge (not performing at grade level, but surprisingly better than before) .

It's a work in progress but the direction is clearly a good one. Our school improvement team is looking for ways to ensure kids master the math facts and algorithms, for example, but we haven't come up with a solution to the time problem (only so much time can be allocated in class, and some children need considerably more practice). With a 90% ELL population, we can't and don't outsource this duty to parents, but we're looking at afterschool programs and CAI as part of the solution.